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Cancer Researcher Tony Hunter Honored with Mitchell Chair, Lauded by Colleagues

Tony Hunter

Tony Hunter, Jamie Simon and Hunter's lovingly decorated alter ego.

At an academic event accompanied by warm words and obvious collegial affection, Tony Hunter became the inaugural holder of the Frederick W. and Joanna J. Mitchell Chair, created in memory of their daughter Marian Mitchell through a $2 million gift by the estate of Frederick W. Mitchell.

The endowed chair was established under the Joan Klein Jacobs and Irwin Mark Jacobs Senior Scientist Endowed Chair Challenge, which augments the Mitchell estate's gift with an additional $1 million. The Jacobses officially presented the Mitchell chair to Hunter on August 16 at a late afternoon reception in his honor.

Hunter, an American Cancer Society Professor and a senior scientist in Salk's Molecular and Cell Biology Laboratory, directs the Institute's NCI-designated Cancer Center. He is widely known at the Institute for his scientific generosity and willingness to collaborate.

"Tony is an incredibly committed and passionate scientist whose name is synonymous with scientific excellence," said Joanne Chory, chair of the Salk faculty. "In his nearly 40 years at the Institute, he has published 458 papers that have been cited nearly 80,000 times," Chory said.

"Tony is also a scientist's scientist," she continued. "He offers very thoughtful feedback and sage advice."

Hunter, who first joined the Salk as a postdoc in 1971, studies how cell proliferation and division is regulated, and how mutations in genes that regulate proliferation lead to cancer. He has made significant research contributions in the area of signal transduction—how signals that stimulate or rein in cell division are routed—discovering a new type of enzyme, called tyrosine kinases, whose activity triggers cells to divide.

Signal transduction is involved in almost every aspect of normal cell development, and minor defects cause a cell to start growing uncontrollably and turn cancerous. Such mutations are the underlying cause of most pediatric cancers. His lab continues to study signal transduction and its roles in normal and abnormal cell development.

The white-bearded and nearly always casually dressed Hunter has garnered international acclaim for his research. He is a member of both the National Academy of Sciences and a fellow of the Royal Society of London. He holds the 2006 Robert J. and Claire Pasarow A ward for Cancer Research; the 2005 Wolf Prize in Medicine, Israel's top recognition for achievements in the interest of humanity; the 2004 Louisa Gross Horwitz Prize, a leading national award for scientific achievement; and Japan's 2001 Keio Medical Science Prize.

Walter Eckhart and Inder Verma lauded Hunter for his tremendous ability to collaborate with colleagues at the Salk and around the world. Also emphasizing Hunter's "keen powers of observation" as an experimentalist, Verma said, "The Salk is very lucky to have someone like Tony."

Hunter's wife, Jenny Price, and their sons, Sean and James, were on hand to witness the tributes. Reuben Shaw, speaking on behalf of the Salk's junior faculty, presented Hunter with the gift of a "sculpture" depicting Tony in a water-rafting pose. (Hunter is well known for his outdoor adventures.)

Shaw said that as a young Cornell University undergraduate of 19 studying signal transduction in a laboratory, he first became aware of Tony Hunter and his seminal work in the field. Today, as a junior colleague of the famous scientist, he recognizes Hunter's "consummate knowledge and generosity toward colleagues everywhere."

In brief acceptance remarks, the characteristically low-key Hunter thanked all of his lab managers, graduate students and postdocs "who did all the work." And he noted that, based on his British lineage, he is "coincidentally, one eighth Mitchell," wryly suggesting that Mitchell blood could be a requirement for future holders of the Mitchell chair.

Launched in 2008 with a $10 million matching fund, the Jacobs Chair Challenge encourages and enables donors to create prestigious, permanent chairs in support of senior faculty members at Salk. At the reception Irwin Jacobs called it "a great honor and personal privilege" to present the chair to Hunter.